Well, folks, we’ve made it — it’s been a slog at times and frustrating/maddening to say the least, but tomorrow is the season finale for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team as they host the #11 Florida State Seminoles at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish (9-14 overall, 6-11 ACC) have dropped 4 straight after clawing their way back into bubble contention a few weeks ago, effectively eliminating themselves from any sort of NCAA Tournament hopes for the 4th consecutive season (barring an unlikely ACC Tournament title) and calling into question Mike Brey’s future as head coach after 21 largely successful and enjoyable seasons at the helm.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles enter the game atop the ACC standings and ranked 11th in the country with a 15-4 overall record (11-3 in conference play). Leonard Hamilton’s squad has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise down year for the ACC, as the Seminoles are currently rated #9 on KenPom.com (8th in offensive efficiency, 53rd on defense).
With that said, they haven’t been tested too much, considering they’ve played one team who’s currently ranked (granted, it was a 21-point win for the ‘Noles over Virginia, which is nothing to sneeze at) and considering their best non-conference match-ups came against Indiana, Florida, and UCF. Those three games saw FSU go 2-1 in fairly unimpressive fashion with a NARROW overtime victory over the Hoosiers and a 12-point loss to the Knights, who are 10-11 on the season.
Still, FSU has plenty of talented, athletic players that have pushed them to the brink of the top 10 teams in the country in what has been a very odd and unique season thanks to COVID-19.
Senior guard M.J. Walker leads the team in scoring at 13.1 points per game and shoots a blistering 47% from long range, making him a super-dangerous perimeter threat, especially considering his 6’5” height that helps him shoot over smaller guards.
Just behind him in terms of scoring is 6’8” junior forward RaiQuan Gray, who does a lot of damage down low as he averages 12.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and nearly 1 block per game while shooting a very efficient 53% from the field. He’s a potential 1st Team All-ACC player and will certainly be a handful for Nate Laszewski, Juwan Durham, and anyone else trying to patrol the paint for the Irish.
The other huge name to know for the Seminoles is true freshman guard Scottie Barnes. At 6’9” and a projected lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the former 5-star does a little of everything in scoring 10.1 points, grabbing 4 rebounds, dishing out 4.4 assists, and snagging 1.4 steals per game. His shooting has not been super efficient in his one year of collegiate ball, though, as he averages 46% from the field and a pretty rough 27% from long range (and 56% from the charity stripe). He’s certainly going to focus on attacking the hoop and using his elite athleticism to beat the Irish’s iffy defense and lacking speed/athleticism for buckets.
Other names to know include strong-shooting perimeter players Anthony Polite (9.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.2 spg, 46% 3P), RayQuan Evans (6.2 ppg, 41% 3P), Sardaar Calhoun (5.6 ppg, 44% 3P), and Wyatt Wilkes (38% 3P), as well as intimidating big men like 7’1” sophomore center Balsa Koprivica (9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 60% FG) and 6’9” junior forward Malik Osborne (5.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
With no heavy rotation player measuring any shorter than 6’4”, Leonard Hamilton employs yet again a deep team of rangy, long, athletic guys who can shoot (48% FG, 39% 3P as a team), rebound (#42 in the country in rebounding margin), and defend decently well (#23 in the country in FG% defense).
Look for the Irish to likely suffer one or two of their famous droughts while also giving up lots of easy buckets and second chances on the other end, and despite potentially keeping it close with another game of limited student attendance to help motivate them, the Irish will almost certainly end the regular season — and perhaps the Brey era, depending on what both he and Jack Swarbrick decide after the ACC Tournament — on a 5+ game losing streak.
WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO WATCH
WHEN: Saturday, 3/6 @ 12:00 PM EST
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, IN
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN 2
Assuming you’re still watching and would like to weigh in on the team’s performance in this game, this article’s comment section will serve as your game thread.